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Celebrating Art and Culture in Greece: The Magnificent Athens - Epidaurus Festival

Among Greece’s many treasures is the Athens - Epidaurus Festival, a celebration of the performing arts that captivates audiences year after year; where ancient Greek traditions merge seamlessly with contemporary artistic expressions.

The Athens-Epidaurus Festival is one of the most important cultural events in Greece. It takes place every year from June to September, and features a wide range of performances, including theatre, dance, music, and opera. The festival until 2005 was held in two ancient theatres, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens, and the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus. Both theatres are renowned for their excellent acoustics and have hosted some of the most famous performers in the world. After 2006, five new theatres were added at an industrial venue in Athens.


With its roots dating back to 1955, this annual festival has become a prominent fixture in Greece's cultural calendar, attracting locals and tourists alike. In this blog post, we will delve into the essence of the Athens-Epidaurus Festival, exploring its historical significance, diverse program offerings, and its enduring impact on the cultural landscape of Greece. Click on the link to take you to the relative section, and...

Don't forget to head over and also listen to the dedicated episode of the My Greek Island Podcast on the platform of your choice, or through the My Greek Island website here.


Photo of the theatre Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens
Photo by Josiah Lewis from Pexels



Historical Journey

The Athens-Epidaurus Festival traces its origins to the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, built in the 4th century BCE. This monumental amphitheatre remains one of the most well-preserved theatres in the world. It was here that the festival's precursor, the Epidaurus Festival, first took place. This ancient festival celebrated the dramatic arts and honoured the Greek god of healing, Asclepius.

In 1955, the Athens-Epidaurus Festival was established as a means to revive and perpetuate Greece's theatrical tradition. The festival quickly gained recognition for its dedication to preserving ancient Greek theatre while simultaneously showcasing contemporary productions. Today, it serves as a bridge between the past and the present, connecting generations through the transformative power of the performing arts.


Photo of the theatre of Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens
Photo by Zsófia Fehér from Pexels

A Legacy of Ancient Theatre

The Athens-Epidaurus Festival traces its roots back to the ancient world, where theatre played an integral role in Greek society. The festival takes place annually during the summer months, drawing inspiration from the ancient Dionysian festivals held in honour of the god of wine, fertility, and theatre. Today, it stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of Greek culture and its contributions to the world of performing arts.


The festival primarily unfolds in Athens, the capital city of Greece, where renowned theatres such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus host breathtaking performances.


The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a marble theatre that was built in the 2nd century AD and has a capacity of 6,000 people. Nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, it is an architectural marvel that showcases both ancient and contemporary works. Visitors have the opportunity to witness captivating performances against the backdrop of Athens' iconic landmarks.




Epidaurus, a picturesque archaeological site located in the Peloponnese region of Greece, is another enchanting venue for the festival. The Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus is a stone theatre dating back to the 4th century BCE and has a capacity of 14,000 people. It is located in the town of Epidaurus, which is about 50 kilometres from Athens. Both theatres are renowned for their excellent acoustics, which make them ideal for performances.


Highlights of the 2023 Athens - Epidaurus Festival

Internationally, the festival has become a magnet for theatre enthusiasts, artists, and scholars from around the world. The blending of ancient and contemporary performances advances a cross-cultural dialogue, allowing diverse artistic traditions to meet and inspire one another. Below we have highlighted just some of the performances:


Music

Performances by some of the world's leading musicians, including performances by international musicians Sigur Rós, Kraftwerk, Nils Frahm, and John Cale (from Velvet Underground) with the Athens Philharmonic Orchestra.


Theatre

A variety of plays, from classic Greek tragedies to contemporary works. Some of the highlights include a production of Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex", and "Madame Butterfly" by Giacomo Puccini performed by the Greek National Opera.


Dance

Pperformances by some of the world's leading dance companies, including Jan Martens & Dance On Ensemble, the Rootless Rot duo and an AEF Urban Dance Contest. There will also be performances by contemporary dance artists, such as Mette Ingvartsen and Jerôme Bel.



For more information and the complete programme, visit the festival website: https://aefestival.gr/en/


My Greek Island tips for attending the Athens Epidaurus festival

Tips for planning your trip

If you are planning to attend the Athens - Epidaurus Festival, please see below some My Greek Island tips to help you with your planning.


  • The festival is located in two different cities, so you will need to plan your transportation accordingly. There are buses that connect Athens and Epidaurus, or alternatively you can rent a car. If on the other hand you prefer to make an adventure out of it, you can take the train from Athens to Patra via Kiato, and from there on to Epidaurus via car, bus or taxi.

  • The festival is very popular so book your tickets early and be prepare for crowds. Also, accommodation in Epidaurus is limited in comparison to Athens, so it is best to book your accommodation in advance.

  • Take time to explore the city of Athens and the town of Epidaurus. Both have a lot to offer visitors, including historical sites, museums, and restaurants. And the exploring will most probably be on foot, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes.

  • The festival takes place during the summer months, during which the weather in Greece can be very hot, so make sure to bring appropriate clothing, sunscreen and a hat.

  • Looking for somewhere to combine the festival with nearby?

    • Well, if the performances taking place in Athens are on your list, then adding some extra days to explore the city centre and the Athens Riviera is always a great idea. For some inspiration listen to the dedicated podcast episodes on Athens: "Athens - A Greekend" and "The Athens Riviera".

    • If the performances of Epidaurus are on your list, then maybe consider the areas of Methana and Leonidio to visit. With the latter also offering an eggplant and jazz festival called melitzazz! Click here for more info.


Finally and most importantly of all: Enjoy the experience! The Athens–Epidaurus Festival is a truly unique event that celebrates the best of Greek culture. It is a great opportunity to experience the power of live performance and to see some of the world's most talented artists.



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